This is the two part series on the Top 10 African male athletes, with numbers 10 to six, written by Deji Ogeyingbo. Last week, Deji did a two part series on the top 10 African women, plus a fine piece on Jacob Ingebrigtsen.
We hope that you enjoy!
Benjamin Kigen, photo by World Athletics
Top 10 African male athletes in 2021 (10-6)
Having recently revealed our Top 10 African Female athletes in 2021, attention will now shift to their male counterparts as we do a breakdown of our Top 10 male Athletes in Africa in 2021.
So, who has done enough to merit a place in our ranking? Find out as we begin the countdown with Part 1 of the series featuring Nos. 10-6.
10. Letsile Tebogo
At No. 10 on our countdown in Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo. When Isaac Makwala paved the way for the Southern African nation on the global stage, many thought they only produced quarter milers and 800m runners. To the surprise of the sprinting world, Tebogo popped up with some eye-catching displays at the World Juniors over the 100m this year.
The young sprinter lit up the front pages with his style of running that is easy on the eye and with a speed and style that seemed unorthodox. At just 18, he is already clocking times that even the greats like Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay, and Yohan Blake couldn’t achieve at a similar age.
He wasn’t the overwhelming favorite for the 100m crown in Nairobi, as the Nigerian’s Godson Brume had a better Personal Best. However, Tebogo turned on the style as he breezed to an easy victory in the heats in 10.22s.
In February, he ran a 10.14 in a meet in Gaborone to replace Isaac Makwala as the record-holder, before storming to win his semis at the World Juniors by lowering that mark to 10.11 on Wednesday. Tebogo lived up to the hype in the final as he clocked 10.19 to defeat South Africa’s Benjamin Richardson (10.28) and Cuban Shainer Rengifo (10.32).
Tebogo went into the 200m as the No 1 candidate for the win, and after going through the rounds unscathed, he met a better match in the final in Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzurike, settling for Silver in 20.38.
9. Benjamin Kigen
Kenya is a goldmine for athletic talent and Benjamin Kigen is one athlete that has consistently put the East African Nation on the world stage with his dazzling piece of springing whenever he graces the track.
Kigen is a well-rounded athlete over the middle distance as he navigates between 1500m, 3000m, and 3000m Steeplechase. However, it was the latter he decided to focus on this season and he reaped its dividends.
After suffering the ignominy of not getting a medal at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Kigen made it a personal ambition to get on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics. A couple of races in Kenya between March and June saw him build his confidence going into the games as he came up against some of the best in the Steeplechase.
In an event that Kenya had won dating back to the last nine Olympics, there was a bit of disappointment on the face of Kigen. Regardless, he managed to open the country’s medal account in Tokyo by winning bronze behind Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma.
He clocked 8:11.45 while Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakali won in 8:08.90 with Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma second in 8:10.38. Kigen was however not discouraged by the loss of the title and was happy to have won a medal at his first Olympics.
Kigen picked up the pieces as about a month later, he defeated 3000m steeplechase Olympic champion El Bakkali to win the Diamond League trophy in Zurich, Switzerland. The 28-year-Old clocked 8:17.45 to win the race ahead of the Moroccan.
8. Timothy Cheruiyot
Talking about relinquishing his dominance, Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot had a topsy turvy year which saw him get dethroned as the best over the men’s 1500m as Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigsten beat him in his biggest race of the season.
Notwithstanding, the 2019 World Champion would take the Silver he won at the Olympics after struggling with personal problems and injury worries for the most part of the year. After a dominant victory at the Diamond League meet in Doha, the unthinkable happened.
At the Kenyan Trials, which helps selectors pick the team for the Olympics, Cheruiyot came up short as he placed fourth in the final. It was obvious that he had aggravated a hamstring injury while competing and he suffered a family bereavement that also affected him. That meant he was left out of Team Kenya altogether.
The middle-distance runner won the Diamond League meetings in Stockholm and Monaco Diamond League meetings in July to stake a claim for a team spot. Those two results coupled with a stroke of luck as one of the qualifiers in the team, the unheralded teenager Kamar Etiang, who finished second at the trials was dropped for not complying with Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), meant Cheruiyot got another opportunity.
At the Olympics, he turned a joyous display of ingenuity and craft in trying to tail Ingebrigsten all through the final, but just narrowly came up short as he settled for second in 3:29.01.
Cheruiyot avenged his Olympic loss to the Norwegian to win the men’s 1500m Diamond League in Zurich, Switzerland. He emerged first with a time of 3:31.37 as Ingebrigtsen took second place with 3:31:45.
7. Ferdinand Omanyala
Ferdinand Omanyala, photo by Kip Keino Classic
Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala grew in leaps and bounds in 2021 as he emerged on the other end of the spectrum as the fastest man in Africa after his breathtaking run on his last race of the season. His story is one that is fraught with a lot of hard work, perseverance and resilience as written in this feature “Ferdinand Omanyala: How a Kenyan became the fastest man in African”.
Omanyala was largely an unknown figure in the sprinting world at the beginning of the year, but that notion changes with these incredible results over the 100m. After a long battle with Athletics Kenya (AK) which saw him banned from ever representing the country, Omanyala eventually won the case.
After clocking 10.29s in his opening race of the season, his name began to echo in the minds of athletics buff when the 3rd Making of Champions Grand Prix in Nigeria, he stormed to a new lifetime best and National Record (NR) of 10.01s, taking down the previous record of 10.14s set by Mark Otieno Odhiambo in 2015.
In Tokyo, he got into the record books as he became the first Kenyan to reach the semifinal of the men’s 100m at the Olympics after equaling his PB of 10.01 in the heats. He went one better in the semis as he came off with a new lifetime best of 10.00s, although it wasn’t enough to see him qualify for the final.
His best times came after the Olympics. At the Laufmeeting in Austria, Omanyala put up a good display, as he clocked 9.96s in the heat of the men’s 100m, before shortly going on to lower the time to 9.86s to win the final.
Omanyala left the best for the last as, on home soil at the Kip Keino Classic, the local blitzed to a new African Record of 9.77s to place 2nd behind America’s Trevon Bromell. The time made him the 8th fastest man in history and the 2nd fastest in 2021.
6. Akani Simbine
Akani Simbine has built a reputation for being one of the most consistent sprinters in the circuit for the last couple of years. After narrowly missing out on a medal as a fledgling at the Rio Olympics, the South African was a genuine medal contender going into the 2021 season.
Since his burst onto the World stage in Rio, Simbine has been among the main characters on the global stage but has played a supporting role instead of cracking a leading role. In fact, since Rio, he has made it into every 100m final at a major global championship since his first in Rio 2016.
The soft-spoken Simbine started his season in South Africa, where, as usual, he dominated proceedings by winning all seven of his races before heading to Europe to compete against some of the very best. His first race in Europe came at the Golden Gala meet in Italy when he beat the field to win in 10.08s.
His best race of the season came a month later, when he set a new African record of 9.84 seconds at the Gyulai IstvÃ¡n Memorial meeting in Hungary on 6 July, launching him into 12th place on the world all-time list. The 2018 Commonwealth Champion went into the Games buoyed by his newfound status as the fastest African ever in the 100m after he shaved 0.01s off the previous continental mark held by Nigeria’s Olusoji Fasuba.
Simbine, running out of lane two, finished fourth as he fell short by 0.04 seconds of the bronze medal at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Interestingly, he was the highest-ranked sprinter heading into the final.
What do you think of our list thus far? Watch out for the concluding part of this series, Friday, December 3, 2021.